The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a federal program created in 1964 to support land and water conservation through fee-title acquisition or use of easements by the federal or state governments. A portion of the fees companies pay to the federal government to drill offshore for oil and natural gas is the primary contribution to the fund, with minor additions coming from the sale of surplus federal real estate and taxes on motorboat fuel.
Created to provide recreational opportunities to all citizens, states receiving LWCF funds must match the money at a 1:1 ratio. Funds are usually granted to:
- States for planning, acquisition and development of needed land and water areas; and
- Federal government for acquisition and development of specific lands.
LWCF is authorized at $900 million a year, but that budget cap has only been met twice in more than 40 years. Congress can, and often does, divert some of the drilling fees for other uses. For instance, the last two years were funded at:
- FY 2012 (Current): $323 million (35.8 percent of the authorized budget)
- FY 2011: $301 million (33.4 percent)
The president has requested LWCF be funded at $450 million for fiscal year 2013. This increased budget could help fund projects such as:
- $2.5 million to the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area (ND, SD) – This area was once the largest expanse of grassland in the world, proving important for a variety of duck species. Since 1984, it is estimated that 184,000 acres of native grasslands have disappeared.
- $1 million to the Grasslands Wildlife Management Area (CA) – The wildlife area is home to more than 1,500 acres of seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands and is a popular waterfowl hunting destination.
- $1 million to the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge (TX) – The Neches River provides nesting and migratory habitat for ducks in the Central Flyway and has been called "one of the last intact ecosystems of the South."
- $1 million to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge (IA, IL, MN, WI) – Millions of waterfowl rely on the habitat along the Upper Mississippi River for migration, breeding and foraging.
LWCF can support anything from national forests to neighborhood parks, but Ducks Unlimited has two priorities for the fund: Dakota Grassland Conservation and providing access to public lands.
- Dakota Grassland Conservation Area (ND, SD) – Dakota grasslands provide habitat for more than 100 breeding birds, including 12 waterfowl species. LWCF provides funds for conservation easements in the area to protect wetlands and grasslands from being converted to crop production. This area of the "duck factory" has received significantly less funding than other projects nationally, though it is the most important and threatened waterfowl habitat.
- Public Access Provisions. Adding dedicated access provisions to LWCF would allow funds to be used to make or create access points to our public lands. This would open significant portions of federal lands for responsible public use. Both the House and Senate have introduced bills that would require 1.5 percent or $10 million, whichever is greater, of LWCF funds be allocated to projects improving access to public lands that are currently inaccessible for hunting, fishing or other recreation.
Wetlands & Grasslands
Since its inception, funds from the LWCF have contributed to more than 7 million acres of land protection and conservation easements, including: